Information overload: part victim, part addict

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U91141scr_en198x300.jpgDo you ever have the feeling that you really are drowning in information?

You used to just about keep your chin above water, but now the inbox has topped 1GB, you haven't replied to voicemails left last week and your LinkedIn account has 20 unanswered invitations to connect. You find you check for messages on your iPhone, deskphone, Skype, Facebook, email and your company's instant messaging platform and then go back and check them again. Part victim, part addict. You spend a week out of the office and the first day back is a write off - from 9-5 it's just catching up.

We're in an information society where information is zipping across the planet at a phenomenal rate:  
And of course, we don't just passively receive messages, we create them, and when we can't reach the person we want, we try a different way. 56% of organisations say employees can't contact co-workers on the first try
 

losing track

We're in information overload. Tracking all this information undermines productivity. According to April 2011‘s Digital Lifestyle survey by Magnify.net, for three-quarters of knowledge workers, their data stream has become:  "a roaring river", "a flood", or a "massive tidal wave."
 
We’re drowning in data. It sucks productivity. It takes five minutes to return to the topic in hand following a 30-second interruption, reckons Basex CEO and author, Jonathan Spira. Already, 66% of knowledge workers feel like they lack the time to get things done.
 
The need to stay in control of info-overload is blurring the boundaries between work and personal life, as confirmed by Magnify.net’s survey:
  • 43% answer texts or emails when out on dates or other social occasions;
  • 33% check email in the middle of the night;
  • 40% ignore family and friends.
In today's business environment, communication is currency. With an increasingly mobile workforce it becomes difficult to stay in touch effectively -- despite a plethora of communication tools. The challenge is growing: a June 2010 IDC report tells us the worldwide mobile worker population is set to increase from 919 million in 2008 (29% of the worldwide workforce), to 1.2 billion in 2013, or 35% of the workforce.
 

confused?

It’s ironic that even as communication tools become more sophisticated, many find it harder to stay on top of the information flow. For instance, it’s no good sending a contact an important Facebook message when they only check that social network once a week. Or why send email to a personal account when it’s work-related, and how can you tell which is which?
 
An integrated communications environment could solve this. A Forrester survey for Cisco argued that employees could save 43 minutes every day just by accessing all emails, voicemails and faxes via a unified central inbox. Improving contact and availability could make the difference between hitting or missing a deadline: 93% of businesses have experienced a missed deadline or project delay as a result of impeded access to key decision makers.
 
It makes sense to figure out how to create and deliver integrated communications technologies and policy to make the best of our new communication age. 
 
So does this picture of information overload sound familiar? Have you found ways to cope with it?
Stewart Baines

I've been writing about technology for nearly 20 years, including editing industry magazines Connect and Communications International. In 2002 I co-founded Futurity Media with Anthony Plewes. My focus in Futurity Media is in emerging technologies, social media and future gazing. As a graduate of philosophy & science, I have studied futurology & foresight to the post-grad level.